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NHS operations threatened by strike action

NHS Logistics workers vote to walk out after handing of contract to DHL

The first national strike in the NHS for 18 years is looking very much a reality, after workers employed by NHS Logistics voted overwhelmingly to walk out.

NHS Logistics buys and distributes almost half of the NHS' non-pharmaceutical supplies on behalf of health professionals and a strike would cause widespread disruption in hospitals and surgeries across the country.

Non-essential operations could be cancelled while key operations and treatment could be delayed if hospitals find themselves short of syringes, hand-cleansing gel, latex gloves, disposable bedpans and hand towels.

Workers are protesting at the government's decision to outsource the logistics work to the German logistics and courier group, DHL.

Public sector union, Unison, said some 74 per cent in a ballot supported industrial action. While it confirmed that emergency life and limb cover will still be provided, the union warned that hospitals would be likely to feel the effects very rapidly, especially in the supply of bulky items which are difficult to store.

Announcing the ballot results, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: ìThese are hardworking public service workers who have never taken strike action before and they are making a stand to protect their service and protect our NHS.î

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ìThe NHS uses about 500,000 different products such as catering supplies, office equipment and medical supplies, but only around 51,000 of these products are provided by NHS Logistics. The majority of hospitals have their own local supply and delivery arrangements.î

Nigel Edwards, policy director at the NHS Confederation, representing health service managers, said he hoped ìthat NHS Logistics will be working with individual trusts to make sure that contingency arrangements can be put in place so that patient care is not adversely affectedî.

Union officials are due to meet on September 15 to discuss whether to call one lengthy strike or a series of one-day strikes.

NHS Logistics has 1,400 employees and serves 600 hospitals in England and nearly 9,000 GPs' surgeries.

30th September 2008

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